Woman: An Intimate Geography

Woman: An Intimate Geography

4.2 9
by Natalie Angier
     
 

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National Book Award finalist
A New York Times notable book


"A tour de force, a womderful, entertaining and informative book." —Abraham Verghese, New York Times Book Review

After fifteen years in print, Woman remains an essential guide to everything from organs to orgasms and hormones…  See more details below

Overview


National Book Award finalist
A New York Times notable book


"A tour de force, a womderful, entertaining and informative book." —Abraham Verghese, New York Times Book Review

After fifteen years in print, Woman remains an essential guide to everything from organs to orgasms and hormones to hysterectomies. With her characteristic clarity, insight, and sheer exuberance of language, bestselling author Natalie Angier cuts through the still prevalent myths and misinformation surrounding the female body, that most enigmatic of evolutionary masterpieces. Woman is a witty and assured narrative tour de force with a reliable grasp of science.

Updated throughout and with a new introduction bringing readers up to date on the latest science in evolutionary psychology and hormone replacement therapy, this new edition of Woman reinvigorates Angier’s joyful vision of womanhood.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"...a remarkable document of universal interest.... a tour de force, a wonderful, entertaining and informative book." -- Abraham Verghese

"...dazzling.... What you'll see through her eyes will startle and amaze you." -- Marilyn Yalom The New York Times

"The revolution already has a manifesto in the form of the ebullient Woman: An Intimate Geography. There are other female-positive books hitting the stores - but it's Angier who most decisively lifts the concept of the human female out of its traditional oxymoronic status. You gotta love a self-described female chauvinist sow who writes like Walt Whitman crossed with Erma Bombeck and depicts the vagina as a Rorschach with legs. Woman is a delicious cocktail of estrogen and amphetamine designed to pump up the ovaries as well as the cerebral cortex. " Time Magazine

"In Woman, Angier wields her poetic scalpel to explore female biology, and the result is awesome."—Dr. Susan Love, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book

"[Angier] is my kind of feminist. Unlike, say, Catherine MacKinnon, she has a sense of humor about the war between the sexes. .... It is the open-mindedness of Woman that is so beguiling. Natalie Angier encourages us to celebrate the diversity of human nature and to realize that the process of cultural evolution is only just beginning."—Erica Jong, The New York Observer

"O joy, O rapture unforeseen! Natalie Angier's fascinating book about the female body is a hilarious romp through, well, our innards. In a deliciously irreverent, energetic, and clear writing style, she demystifies and de-mythicizes women's anatomy and biological workings. Along the way, Angier leaves no metaphor unexplored....She reveals the mysterious universe of women's bodies for even the most scientifically impaired souls. Like the evolution she describes, Angier is self-selecting in what she writes about, but her passion for what make us gals tick is infectious. Her explanation of chromosomes veritably sings. Woman: An Intimate Geography will leave the reader, male or female, in sheer awe of the complexity and power of women's bodies."— Ms. Magazine

"A delightfully mischievous yet serious book on the biology of the female body. Mischievous in that the science is interpreted in terms of modern feminism. It is a great read." — Phillip Sharp, MIT professor and Nobel laureate

"A delighted and delightful book, scientifically intelligent, politically astute, and replete with the intense complexity and fascination of biology. The writing is wonderful and the humor and sensibility are as rare as they are welcome."—Perri Klass, M.D.

"Woman is so captivating I couldn't put it down. It is jam-packed with fascinating, carefully researched facts I never knew before about how we women work. Best of all, Angier's abundant sense of humor and colorful writing style make this an irresistible read for everyone interested in women's bodies and women's health."—Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., Strong Women Stay Young

"In this witty, learned, adventurous book, Angier gives feminism a cheerful, evolutionary twist. Her deflation of the 'new science of evolutionary psychology' is a brilliant combination of hard science, humor and common sense exactly right."—Katha Pollitt, The Nation

"Angier has brought both her considerable intellect and wry sense of humor to this book. The result is brilliantly accessible and wonderfully subversive."— Dr. Christiane Northrup, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

"Having occupied a woman’s body for nearly sixty years, I didn’t think any book would have much to teach me. How wrong I was!" — Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, ethologist and author of The Hidden Life of Dogs

"Passion and intelligence meet in a gorgeous book about what it means to be a woman today, yesterday, and forever. Herein lies a fund of knowledge beautifully conveyed, as well as questions that have yet to be answered." Kirkus Reviews

"It's hard not to sound effusive about Woman: An Intimate Geography, since it's fabulous. Angier's book contains more facts about women than anything I've read since the Boston Women's Health Collective published Our Bodies, Our Selves in 1973. My advice about Woman is, get three copies, one for the beach, one for the bathroom and one to read under the covers with a flashlight." Elle

"To read Woman is to banish the gods of negative body image. It is transformative in the way Our Bodies, Our Selves was in the '70s, and no less radical. In fact, if Our Bodies, Our Selves has become the bible of women's bodies, let Woman: An Intimate Geography be our Shakespeare." Mirabella

"It's exhilarating to follow Angier's subversive logic as she dismantles the misogynist mythologies once advanced as the scientific gospel of the female body and replaces them with theories more congenial with the female soul....Angier's brilliant and witty fantasia will inspire women to believe in their powwers." Boston Globe

"One knows early on one is reading a classic—a text so necessary and abundant aand truuuuue that all efforts of its kind, for decades before and after it, will be measured by it. ... After a careful reading of this essential book, men should pass it along to someone they love-—their sons, daughters ... lovers and spouses. For a fresh look into the life's sciences ... and the pure pleasure of language in service to the facts of life, Angier's Woman is as good as it gets."— Thomas Lynch, Los Angeles Times

"The chief manifesto of the new 'femaleist' thinking, this ebullient and provocative treatise on women's bodies reads like a mixture of Walt Whitman and Erma Bombeck."— Barbara Ehrenreich, TIME cover story, "The Truth About Women's Bodies"

The Barnes & Noble Review
If the clothes make the man, as the cliché goes, what makes the woman? Pulitzer Prize-winning Natalie Angier will tell you in her revolutionary new book, Woman: An Intimate Geography. Breathtaking in its scope and depth, this book by the New York Times Science writer offers meditative and informative essays which champion the "fantasia of the female body and mind," exploring every element of what it means to be a woman.

Angier takes us on a tour of the female body, beginning with the egg, the largest cell in the body at a mere tenth of a millimeter in diameter — a cell she actually gets to see with her own eyes while witnessing an egg donor in action at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine. From there, she dives into the gene pool to swim to the source of femaleness, the X-chromosome, and introduces Jane Carden, a woman born with Y-chromosomes embedded in some of her genes. Due to a mutation called androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), Carden's body ignored the male chromosome, and instead "chose to go girl," though she lacks a uterus, fallopian tubes, a cervix, and inner labia. She had testes in her abdominal cavity, which were removed soon after she was born (they were herniated). Despite these factors, "with her breasts and rounded hips and comparatively slender neck, she can't help but strike the world as a woman."

The story of Jane Carden is not only a riveting case study but also serves to demonstrate the abundance of Angier's knowledge and her keen ability to translate bio-talk into laywoman's terms. Some of this can be attributed toAngier'sthorough research, for she turns to science and medicine to "sketch a working map of the parts that we call female"; Darwin and evolutionary theory to "thrash out the origins of our intimate geography"; and history, art, and literature for insight. But what ultimately distinguishes Woman from other books of its kind is its highly personal and personable narrative voice, which interweaves Angier's quirky humor, undeniable enthusiasm for the subject (she brags about being "a female chauvinist"), and poet's ear for language.

Whether Angier is extolling the virtues of the clitoris, a pleasure-only zone with its 8,000 nerve fibers; probing the vagina ("a Rorschach with legs"); likening the uterus to a muscle hero sandwich and the cervix's appearance to a glazed doughnut; or mocking Western culture's fetishization of women's breasts, she does not compromise subject for humor, nor does she lose focus. She broadens her discussion to include menopause and exercise; claim aggression, fury, and strength as female traits; and confront evolutionary psychologists' theories about the nature of orgasms, maternal love, and female competition, constructing her own theories in the process.

While Angier presumes a female readership, whom she refers to as gals ("I keep thinking, against all evidence, that [this word] is on the verge of coming back into style"), Woman: An Intimate Geography is an important book that should be read by men and women alike. Delivered with authority, brio, and witty irreverence, Angier's book is a crucial and distinctive addition to feminist literature, destined to become a classic alongside Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born, the Boston Women's Health Collective's Our Bodies, Ourselves, Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, and Susan Faludi's Backlash.
Kera Bolonik

Thomas Lynch
A classic...Woman is as good as it gets....All efforts of its kind, for decades before and after it, will be measured by it. —Los Angeles Times Book Review
Abraham Verghese
...[A] tour de force, a wonderful, entertaining and informative book.
NY Times Book Review
Richard Lowry
...[W]e should have at least some sympathy for Angier's motives. Not all efforts to rein in and divert our scheming, promiscuous ancestral brains are unworthy.
National Review
Maggie Jones

Simone de Beauvoir probably would have agreed with Natalie Angier's theory of feminism -- with one exception. De Beauvoir believed women were the biological runners-up in the gender wars; Angier, the stylish, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for the New York Times, takes the contrary view. In Woman: An Intimate Geography, she argues that women's bodies are complex, versatile and powerful, and that they often surpass men's. To prove her point, she takes us on a tantalizing, witty journey through female biology, debunking many entrenched stereotypes and myths and a lot of questionable science.

Equipped with an eye for detail and a sure grasp of science, Angier maps the female body -- eggs, uterus, breasts, hormones, brain -- enlisting a remarkable array of studies and little-known facts, as well as examples from history and literature, to offer a feminist take on biology. She explains, for instance, that the clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings, twice as many as the penis. "All this," she gloats, "and to no greater purpose than to subserve a woman's pleasure. In the clitoris alone we see a sexual organ so pure of purpose that it needn't moonlight as a secretory or excretory device." She details the power of estrogen on the brain and heart and the complexity of the female chromosome, which boasts thousands of genes, compared to the male counterpart's puny two dozen.

Though Angier toys with some fringe theories about women's biology, including one that suggests female orgasms enhance fecundity, she saves her most trenchant arguments for the evolutionary psychologists, offering a refreshing rebuttal to the gender stereotyping of Robert Wright (The Moral Animal) and David Buss (The Evolution of Desire). Women, these writers believe, are innately less interested in sex, less aggressive and more invested in relationships than men are. Angier unearths numerous exceptions and alternative explanations. DNA studies, for example, show that female chimpanzees risk "life and limb" and the lives of their offspring to cheat on their possessive mates. And if women have lower sex drives than men, Angier argues, you can't blame biology: Cultural mores across the centuries have punished women for their carnal interest.

Unfortunately, Angier has a propensity to engage in cheerleading about everything female, and the result can be sisterhood mush. In a chapter on menstruation, she implores women to celebrate this rite of passage together: "When your daughter or niece or younger sister runs to you and crows, 'It's here!' take her out for a bowl of ice cream or a piece of chocolate cake, and raise a glass of milk to the new life that begins with blood." Moments like this make you wonder whether you're reading an early edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Still, this is a minor quibble about a meaty book. Angier challenges readers to question assumptions about women's bodies and minds. She prods us to understand biology as a feminist tool. And her book provides the analysis and the ammunition with which to do just that.
Salon

Erica Jong
Ms. Angier writes wonderfully well. Her mischievous sense of humor is even more evident here than in her science columns for The New York Times....Natalie Angier's prose, with its mixture of irony and metaphor-making, is surprising—like the research underlying her book. Just when you think she is indulging in the too-poetic, she undercuts it with a satirical jab.... It is the open-mindedness of Woman that is so beguiling. Natalie Angier encourages us to celebrate the diversity of human nature and to realize that the process of cultural evolution is only just beginning.
New York Observer
Newsweek
To proponents of the view that it is men's biological nature to be promiscuous, and women's to be coy...scientists are now offering an alternative explanation, as Pulitzer Prize winner Natalie Angier details in her new book, WOMAN....Neither a guide to women's health nor another tiresome tour through male/female differences, WOMAN is a treasure chest of did-you-knows. Angier targets other sexual myths -- like one linking testosterone and aggression -- and hits a bulls-eye every time.
Jane Magazine
I've never read a book like this before. Natalie Angier takes the reader through a multifaceted exploration of women's bodies in an ornate, sometimes irreverent manner. This book is fascinating.
Ms
O joy, O rapture unforeseen! Natalie Angier's fascinating book about the female body is a hilarious romp through, well, our innards. In a deliciously irreverent, energetic, and clear writing style, she demystifies and de-mythicizes women's anatomy and biological workings. Along the way, Angier leaves no metaphor unexplored....She reveals the mysterious universe of women's bodies for even the most scientifically impaired souls. Like the evolution she describes, Angier is self-selecting in what she writes about, but her passion for what make us gals tick is infectious. Her explanation of chromosomes veritably sings. Woman: An Intimate Geography will leave the reader, male or female, in sheer awe of the complexity and power of women's bodies.
BUST Magazine
Angier brings passionate curiosity and an electrifying feminisht point of view to the neo-Darwinist debate; but, best of all, she's a riot....This is a fantastically enlightening and important book about your body. Don't miss it.
KLIATT
Pulitzer Prize-winner Angier writes about biology for The New York Times. Here she turns her attention to "a celebration of the female body—its anatomy, its chemistry, its evolution, and its laughter." With great wit, style, and knowledge, Angier looks at everything from the effects of the X and Y chromosomes to African ritual genital cutting, the frequency of hysterectomies, and the significance of breasts and breast feeding in the first part of the book, which focuses on body structures. The second part is concerned with body systems, and here Angler discusses the ways in which estrogen and other hormones affect behavior, the "grandmother hypothesis" that postmenopausal women have a vital role in helping younger women feed children in hunter-gatherer societies, aggression and women, women's need for muscle, and the chemistry of falling in love. Angler looks at the facts from various angles and questions assumptions and stereotypes, pointing out the biases of evolutionary psychology. She talks about what we can learn from other species, and presents fascinating case studies, such as the hereditarily hirsute women of Zacatecas, Mexico. Her style is never dry, often delightful: a typical example is "Breasts weigh a few ounces in facts and a few tons in metaphor." This National Book Award finalist is a complex, fascinating, and wide-ranging read, and while Angler's explanations of female physiology are clear, a background course or two in biology would come in handy. For advanced students in biology and women's studies as well as general readers in public libraries. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 1999, Random House/Anchor, 438p, bibliog,index, 20cm, 99-047764, $15.00. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
Library Journal
Gabrielle De Cuir's sublime narration is reason alone to purchase this entertaining and very enlightening look at what it means to be a woman. Angier, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for the New York Times, primarily examines women's bodies from a biological perspective. Although she explores many weighty scientific topics such as infertility treatments, the roots of aggression, and the evolution of sexual behavior, both her tone and her exceptional use of language make the work well suited to the audio format. De Cuir's reading is always perfectly reflective of the tone of the work, which varies from informative to angry to playful. Angier's comments on social issues and current events add to the listening experience without distracting from the wealth of scientific and medical information presented. With its terrific prose and extraordinary narration, this production is recommended without reservation for all collections.--Beth Farrell, Portage Cty. Dist. Lib., OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
--Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, TX
Booknews
Angier, a Pulitzer-prize winning writer for the New York Times brings sharp wit, linguistic prowess, and copious research to bear on her topic, which is, well...it's not entirely clear. In her words: "My book sets out to tackle the question 'What makes a woman?' But I can only sidle up to the subject of femaleness clumsily, idosyncratically, with my biases, impressions, and desires flapping out like the tongue of an untucked blouse. I hope simply to show how the body is part of the answer...." Chapters are labeled with amusing titles such as "The Well-Tempered Clavier--On the Evolution of the Clitoris," "A Gray and Yellow Basket--The Bounteous Ovary," "Venus in Furs--Estrogen and Desire," "Greasing the Wheels--A Brief History of Hormones," and "A Skeptic in Paradise--A Call for Revolutionary Psychology." Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
People Magazine
Women readers especially may feel invigorated by this celebration of their multifaceted selves.
Marilyn Yalom
What you'll see through her eyes will startle and amaze you...Natalie Angier's dazzling new book calls upon biology and evolution to celebrate the female body. Its upbeat message...is supported by rigorous scientific underpinnings.
The New York Times
Peggy Orenstein
If Our Bodies, Ourselves has become the bible of women's bodies, let Woman be our Shakespeare....Angier's funny, she's brazen, she wants women to like themselves. What does it mean to be encased in feminine flesh?...That is what Angier explores so slyly, so subversively, with such silver-tongued sass...It's all wonderful fun...If biology is destiny, Angier gives us reason to rejoice in ours.
Elle
Talk Magazine
Andier, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent, illuminates women and debunks old-hat theories, like the one that says that women have lower sex drives than men. "Rank nonsense!" Angier thunders.

Talk Magazine's 10 Best Books of 1999

Blanche McCrary Boyd
My advice about Woman is to get three copies, one for the beach, one for the bathroom, and one to read under the covers at night.
Mirabella
Megan Harlan
...[An] intellectually sparkling and frolicsome tome....Her scientific spring cleaning reveals a frankly exhilarating feminine landscape.
Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Passion and intelligence meet in a gorgeous book about what it means to be a woman today, yesterday, and forever. Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Angier's (The Beauty of the Beast: New Views of the Nature of Life) "geography" ranges from the south pole of the mons veneris and associated vulval landmarks to the high peaks of the brain in her exploration of female anatomy, physiology, psychology and countless other -ologies across the life span. By turns she is serious, angry, joyous and loving; at times hortatory and didactic, other times confessional. And always she displays the high style and metaphor that New York Times readers have come to expect. The result is a book rich in information, from the microanatomy of the egg cell and the X chromosome to the cultural heritage that perpetuates the Madonna-whore dichotomy for women. She is extremely good at detailing the hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle and in pregnancy, on the wonders of the uterus, the placenta, breast milk, and breasts in general. (She puts Desmond Morris and others in their place-no, the breasts are not misplaced buttocks). Of special interest is a chapter on love, with the observation that at least one hormone, oxytocin, may in part subserve the emotion. Angier speaks frankly of her own sexuality, pregnancy, and childbirth, of the war between mothers and daughters and of aggression as the other side of love. Her voice is a bit too strident in condemning the medical profession for treating menopause as disease: Not all docs urge hormone replacement therapy on their female patients. The voice also reaches crescendo peak in preaching the virtues of exercise. Okay, already! But herein liesa fund of knowledge beautifully conveyed, as well as questions that have yet to be answered. Women should rejoice-and so should men.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780544228108
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
08/05/2014
Pages:
512
Sales rank:
200,603
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt


Preface

The Karo Batak are traditional farmers who live in small villages scattered along the highland plateau of North Sumatra, Indonesia. They lead tough, subsistence lives, wear brightly colored clothing, and are rarely exposed to Western media, and the men have a thing for women with big feet. This last detail may seem whimsically beside the point, but as anthropologist Geoff Kushnick of the University of Washington argued in the September 2013 issue of Human Nature, the Karo Batak preference for large-footed women doesn’t square with certain Darwinian notions about the traits men seek in their mates.
   According to the glossier and more emphatic strains of the research enterprise called evolutionary psychology, men and women have evolved to consult very different internal checklists when choosing a romantic partner. Women are said to want a provider to help them raise their children, so they look for signs of status and wealth in a man—handiness of spear, bulginess of wallet. Men, by contrast, want a mate with a long reproductive career ahead of her, so they scan for hallmarks of youth and nubility: shiny hair, bee-stung lips, perky breasts. And because a woman’s feet tend to widen with every passing year and parturition, evolutionary psychologists posit that foot size should also figure into the male nubility monitor, and that men are likely wired to find dainty feet more appealing than their haggish, Sasquatch counterparts. Sure enough, a number of cross-cultural studies appeared to confirm the small-foot preference, lending a bit of scientific cachet to the old Fats Waller lyric “Don’t want you ’cause your feet’s too big.”
   Yet as Geoff Kushnick discovered, Karo Batak men were refusing to sing along. When he showed 159 of them a set of five silhouettes of a woman in which all details remained the same except for the size of her feet, the men judged the one with the biggest feet as more attractive than the other four. In addition, the men actively disliked the image of the woman with the tiniest feet—the very picture that men in previous studies had, on average, deemed the most fetching. As it turned out, the Karo Batak were not alone in their predilections. When Kushnick revisited the cross-cultural preference surveys in detail, he found that while small feet prevailed in aggregate, there was considerable cultural variation: the less urban the population, and the less its exposure to Western media, the likelier its men were to appreciate images of women whose feet had been significantly enlarged.
   The foot results echoed studies that had called into question another piece of evo- psycho dogma: the purportedly universal appeal of the wasp waist. Men everywhere were said to prefer women with small waists relative to the width of their hips over women with chunkier, boxier forms. After all, nothing cries “young female in the full flower of her estrogenic powers” better than an hourglass figure, right? But here, too, researchers found exceptions to the rule, benighted cultures in which the men claimed to like the thick-waisted women, and to find the cinched-in women with their “ideal” waist-to-hip ratios a bit sickly looking. Again, the contrarian men were from remote cultures with scant exposure to Western media, Beyoncé, and Spanx. Research like his, Geoff Kushnick wrote, “has implications for the concept of universality espoused in some versions of evolutionary psychology” and calls into question “the notion that one size fits all.” Perhaps, just perhaps, Kushnick bravely postulated, human mating preferences are “flexible,” responsive to local circumstances, rather than preordained by one’s chromosomal makeup. Hard as it might be for Westerners to fathom, men in subsistence societies just may favor the appearance of sturdiness and surefootedness over a head-to-toe package of “youth signifiers,” the lovely semiotics of Lolita en pointe.
   I bring this up because Woman deals at length with some of the more complacently tendentious claims about male-female differences that have emerged from evolutionary psychology—that women are coy and fastidious while men are ardent and promiscuous, for example, or that women are just not as obsessed with power and achievement as men are, and, hey, that’s a good thing, especially if it means more homemade red velvet cupcakes for the school bake sale. Since Woman was first published, the application of Darwinian ideas to the study of human behavior has itself speciated into an array of different schools, some of them quite creative and sophisticated. The researchers call themselves evolutionary anthropologists, human behavioral ecologists, evolutionary developmental biologists, or simply scientists. They view humans as very smart animals with a long, messy past, and they are devoted to decoding the complex interplay between biology and biography, genes and culture, individual variability and hominid continuity. Many of these evolutionary scholars will express reservations in private about the subdiscipline of evolutionary psychology and its penchant for intellectual overreach, the ease with which its most ardent proponents will spin a highly preliminary finding into a grand saga about the deep evolutionary roots of male-female differences. Still, it can take courage to speak out against the proclamations of evolutionary psychology, which is why I characterize Kushnick’s questioning of the “one size fits all” model of human mating preferences as brave. When confronted by results that cast doubt on their core convictions, or by skeptics who question their interpretation of a given data set, evolutionary psychologists can be remarkably tetchy and thin-skinned. They will accuse their critics of ignorance, of not believing in evolution, of letting their political opinions cloud their scientific judgment, or all of the above. David Buss, a patriarch of the evo-psycho industry, has compared himself to Galileo defending truths as incontrovertible as heliocentricity against the forces of darkness. In 2012 Alice Eagly and Wendy Woods, respected psychologists steeped in Darwinian theory, published a lengthy and abundantly footnoted report entitled “Biosocial Construction of Sex Differences and Similarities in Behavior.” They discussed the considerable variability of psychological sex differences across cultures and throughout time, and they noted the challenge that such variation posed to “essentialist” beliefs about male and female nature. That elicited a predictable response in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, in which Barry Kuhle of the University of Scranton slapped down Eagly and Wood as “gender feminists” whose thinking “needs to evolve.” And their feets are probably too big, too.
   The debate over evolutionary psychology is no mere parlor game. Many people have taken its more diaphanous and peremptory claims all too seriously, and some of those people wield influence. When Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard University, famously suggested in 2005 that the lack of women in the upper tiers of science might have less to do with sex discrimination or the difficulty of combining motherhood and career than with women’s innately inferior math skills and the relative weakness of their competitive drive, a number of critics observed that Summers’s position sounded suspiciously EP. By the gospel of EP, women are the sane and balanced ones, humanity’s multitaskers, so of course you’d expect to find them comfortably ensconced beneath the great middling bulge of the cognitive bell curve. Men, on the other hand, are the risk takers, the hunters, whose fetal brains had rotated wildly through testosterone hyperspace before crash-landing at either end of the IQ distribution scale. The result? More male geniuses and more male fools, and more all-round wham-bang momentum for whatever those males may do.
   Summers’s comments caused an uproar, but did he perchance have a point? Does math genius favor the masculine mind? The trend lines say no. Thirty years ago, among the nation’s top scorers on standardized math tests, there were thirteen boys for every girl; today that ratio is three to one and shrinking, and in some countries the male-female math gap has vanished altogether. As for whether men hold the copyright on ambition and drive, well, Larry Summers really wanted to be chairman of the Federal Reserve. He pursued the position publicly, unabashedly, and manfully through much of 2013. Too bad for him Janet Yellin wanted the same thing.
   Evolutionary psychology is a rich thematic vein that I can’t seem to stop mining, and readers who wish to excavate further can find a selection of my essays on the topic, written since Woman first came out, in the appendix of this new edition.
   Beyond the EP escapades, a number of longstanding assumptions about the limitations of the female body lately have been shaken. Evidence now suggests, for example, that girls may not be born with all the eggs they’ll ever have in life—long a bedrock principle of reproductive biology—but instead retain the power to generate new eggs well into their postfetal years. The three-step vaccine that blocks infection by the most dangerous strains of human papilloma virus promises to render cervical cancer obsolete in the near future, taking with it, we can only hope, the dreary annual Pap smear  I most emphatically do not wish the same fate for men, even though scientists have recently managed to transform women’s bone marrow cells into protosperm.
   But perhaps the biggest change in the women’s health department has been the spectacular collapse of hormone replacement therapy as wonder drug [I think wonder drug works ok here, thanks] the one-stop solution to whatever ails the older gal. When I wrote Woman, the use of formulations like Prempro—a combination of estrogen and synthetic progesterone—was on the ascent, prescribed to millions of women aged fifty and older whose own ovaries had retired from the hormonal supply business. Prempro and similar pills were pitched as the equivalent of taking insulin for diabetes or Synthroid for thyroid disease—the sensible solution to the hormone “deficiency” disorder that is menopause. And evidence did seem to be accruing that estrogen could protect postreproductive women against an array of miseries, minor to macro: hot flashes, mood swings, bone fractures, heart disease, Alzheimer’s. Add in progestin to counter estrogen’s known tendency to overstimulate the uterine lining, and you had what looked like a great treatment for many of the worst banes of aging.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"...a remarkable document of universal interest.... a tour de force, a wonderful, entertaining and informative book."—Abraham Verghese

"...dazzling.... What you'll see through her eyes will startle and amaze you."—Marilyn Yalom The New York Times

"The revolution already has a manifesto in the form of the ebullient Woman: An Intimate Geography. There are other female-positive books hitting the stores - but it's Angier who most decisively lifts the concept of the human female out of its traditional oxymoronic status. You gotta love a self-described female chauvinist sow who writes like Walt Whitman crossed with Erma Bombeck and depicts the vagina as a Rorschach with legs. Woman is a delicious cocktail of estrogen and amphetamine designed to pump up the ovaries as well as the cerebral cortex. " Time Magazine

"In Woman, Angier wields her poetic scalpel to explore female biology, and the result is awesome."—Dr. Susan Love, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book

"[Angier] is my kind of feminist. Unlike, say, Catherine MacKinnon, she has a sense of humor about the war between the sexes. .... It is the open-mindedness of Woman that is so beguiling. Natalie Angier encourages us to celebrate the diversity of human nature and to realize that the process of cultural evolution is only just beginning."—Erica Jong, The New York Observer

"O joy, O rapture unforeseen! Natalie Angier's fascinating book about the female body is a hilarious romp through, well, our innards. In a deliciously irreverent, energetic, and clear writing style, she demystifies and de-mythicizes women's anatomy and biological workings. Along the way, Angier leaves no metaphor unexplored....She reveals the mysterious universe of women's bodies for even the most scientifically impaired souls. Like the evolution she describes, Angier is self-selecting in what she writes about, but her passion for what make us gals tick is infectious. Her explanation of chromosomes veritably sings. Woman: An Intimate Geography will leave the reader, male or female, in sheer awe of the complexity and power of women's bodies."—Ms. Magazine

"A delightfully mischievous yet serious book on the biology of the female body. Mischievous in that the science is interpreted in terms of modern feminism. It is a great read."—Phillip Sharp, MIT professor and Nobel laureate

"A delighted and delightful book, scientifically intelligent, politically astute, and replete with the intense complexity and fascination of biology. The writing is wonderful and the humor and sensibility are as rare as they are welcome."—Perri Klass, M.D.

"Woman is so captivating I couldn't put it down. It is jam-packed with fascinating, carefully researched facts I never knew before about how we women work. Best of all, Angier's abundant sense of humor and colorful writing style make this an irresistible read for everyone interested in women's bodies and women's health."—Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., Strong Women Stay Young

"In this witty, learned, adventurous book, Angier gives feminism a cheerful, evolutionary twist. Her deflation of the 'new science of evolutionary psychology' is a brilliant combination of hard science, humor and common sense exactly right."—Katha Pollitt, The Nation

"Angier has brought both her considerable intellect and wry sense of humor to this book. The result is brilliantly accessible and wonderfully subversive."—Dr. Christiane Northrup, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

"Having occupied a woman’s body for nearly sixty years, I didn’t think any book would have much to teach me. How wrong I was!"—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, ethologist and author of The Hidden Life of Dogs

"Passion and intelligence meet in a gorgeous book about what it means to be a woman today, yesterday, and forever. Herein lies a fund of knowledge beautifully conveyed, as well as questions that have yet to be answered." Kirkus Reviews

"It's hard not to sound effusive about Woman: An Intimate Geography, since it's fabulous. Angier's book contains more facts about women than anything I've read since the Boston Women's Health Collective published Our Bodies, Our Selves in 1973. My advice about Woman is, get three copies, one for the beach, one for the bathroom and one to read under the covers with a flashlight." Elle

"To read Woman is to banish the gods of negative body image. It is transformative in the way Our Bodies, Our Selves was in the '70s, and no less radical. In fact, if Our Bodies, Our Selves has become the bible of women's bodies, let Woman: An Intimate Geography be our Shakespeare." Mirabella

"It's exhilarating to follow Angier's subversive logic as she dismantles the misogynist mythologies once advanced as the scientific gospel of the female body and replaces them with theories more congenial with the female soul....Angier's brilliant and witty fantasia will inspire women to believe in their powwers." Boston Globe

"One knows early on one is reading a classic—a text so necessary and abundant aand truuuuue that all efforts of its kind, for decades before and after it, will be measured by it. ... After a careful reading of this essential book, men should pass it along to someone they love-—their sons, daughters ... lovers and spouses. For a fresh look into the life's sciences ... and the pure pleasure of language in service to the facts of life, Angier's Woman is as good as it gets."—Thomas Lynch, Los Angeles Times

"The chief manifesto of the new 'femaleist' thinking, this ebullient and provocative treatise on women's bodies reads like a mixture of Walt Whitman and Erma Bombeck."—Barbara Ehrenreich, TIME cover story, "The Truth About Women's Bodies"

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Meet the Author


NATALIE ANGIER is a Pulitzer-Prize winning science columnist for the New York Times. She is the author of The Canon, The Beauty of the Beastly, and Natural Obsessions. She lives outside Washington, D.C.

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Woman: An Intimate Geography 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Natalie Angier has written a startling, delightful, amazingly innovative and enormously humorous book about the female body. It's a must-read for women! You will, I guarantee, never have understood the intricacies of your beautiful biology as clearly and as interestingly as you will after Angier gives you the tour. Her book blows the lid off many assumptions and misunderstands, even myths, about female sexuality, and the extent to which history has dictated notions about male dominance in the area of sex and reproduction. This is a book which offers wonderful information and enlightenment from Angier's perspective of evolutionary anthropology. If you consider yourself 'a real woman,' don't rest until get out and find this miraculous book. It's a fresh look at your body, spirit, biology and sexuality--just a masterpiece!
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csaint More than 1 year ago
Angier's scientific writing on the human body is witty, humorous, and insightful. A perfect blend of research and creative writing, this is one Science book unlike any other. She explains the female anatomy with unparalleled detail that whisks your mind through uncharted paths and trails of biology. Her knowledge on this topic seems never-ending and her insight keeps the book interesting throughout. I recommend this book to any intelligent reader who is captivated by female biology and is seeking for something to quench their thirst. Genius.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reads like an enjoyable class with a witty lecturer. The information was weighty, but she instructs with great zest and skill. Great read for Moms dealing with how to explain the geography of a female body to their daughters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To help men and women better understand the biology, psychology, and physiology of women.